July 11, 2016
In our profession, most veterinary practices are owned by — wait for it — veterinarians! Yes, there are some states that allow non-DVM owners, but for our purposes, we are speaking to those practice owners out there with DVM behind their name — and a LOT on their plates!
The first thing we need to realize is that oftentimes, DVMs have not learned how to manage a practice, even when it is their own. They went to school to learn how to care for animals, not turn that passion into a profitable business. So we need to applaud their efforts; however, here are some qualities that will help to make a DVM a successful practice owner.
The DVM practice owner should only wear one of those hats at a time. While seeing patients, performing surgery and providing medical care, the DVM hat should be in place. When it’s time to make business decisions, hold meetings, address the budget and other non-DVM duties, the owner hat should be firmly in place. Trying to balance both hats at the same time can likely make them both fall off!
The issue often becomes that the DVM hat is worn much more often than the owner hat, and so important business activities get pushed to the side, adding to the accumulation of stress on the owner. Mark time off the appointment schedule when the Owner can pull away from the patients and focus strictly on working “on” the business, not “in” the business. The amount of time needed will vary, but find a balance that helps to reduce stress on the business side and allow you to enjoy the time with patients and clients.
Often the comment is made that employees, the team members, do not seem to feel “ownership” in the practice. That means they are not as dedicated to working as hard and as long as the actual practice owner.
Well, they are not owners, so they should not be expected to fit the profile of an owner. That does not mean they won’t work hard, but their motivation is something other than the feeling that the practice is part of their identity. The face of loyalty has changed also in our society. Once upon a time, you were loyal to a company and they kept you on for your entire career, and paid you retirement for a job well done.
Nowadays, the picture is different, and employees know that. Instead of “turnover” being an ugly word that we try to manage, “turnover” to them is simply finding a new job that helps get them one step closer perhaps to where they want to go and who they want to be. Just realizing this difference will help to dispel any disappointment an owner may feel when the team seems to be “selfish” about their time especially.
Along with this, since ownership is not the motivating factor for employees, the practice owner needs to help the employee answer the question, “what’s in it for me?” Focus on internal motivating factors that led these people to veterinary medicine to begin with, the love of animals and the desire to help. When it’s time to push heartworm preventative, instead of it being about growing the bottom line profit, make it about the desire to keep as many dogs and cats healthy.
This goes back to the practice’s organizational chart, or simply the hierarchy of management and communication. Let’s say a practice has a group of veterinary technicians which includes a supervisor among the ranks. Plus there is a practice or hospital manager as well. Typically the best path of communication is when the technician team member goes to their supervisor with a problem, who might then take the issue to the practice manager. If needed, that manager then consults the practice owner.
What should NOT happen is that the technician “jumps over” the supervisor and perhaps even the manager, and directs their issue directly to the practice owner. So, if this happens, the owner needs to be aware and direct that team member to the appropriate manager first. The perceived authority of the layers of management will be sacrificed if the practice owner allows this type of jumping with communication.
Many times managers will believe that a problem employee should be terminated, and many times they are correct. But then just as often the practice owner, who holds the ultimate veto power, decides to give the employee “one more chance,” even if seven chances have been used up! The entire team will appreciate if subpar employees are let go from the practice. If the fear is that everyone will have to work harder in the meantime while hiring a new person to fill that spot, most times the team is willing to word a bit harder in an environment made better by the absence of the problem employee.
No matter who is the boss, every team member at any level would appreciate hearing a sincere “thank you” or “job well done” from the big boss, the practice owner. These little words can make a big difference.
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